Few labels in the last decade have established as commanding of a presence as Crosstown Rebels. Led by outlandish personality Damian Lazarus, the imprint and its disciples have orchestrated a near-dominant takeover of underground tech-house across the globe with their occasionally haunting and always deep and funky sound. Typically, the secret weapon in Crosstown Rebels' success has been fresh talent. The success of Lazarus signings across the last 99 releases has introduced one scene stealer after another, including, among others, Art Department, Jamie Jones, and Maceo Plex. Bringing on an already established name is a much more seldom occurrence at the Rebels' camp, which makes this release from Montreal electro-techno luminary Tiga impressive beyond the fact that it's the label's centennial single.
It's also the first original material James Sontag has done as Tiga since '09's Ciao!, a fact that is lost on no one involved. Sontag's been far from dormant during this time and "The Picture" proves just as relevant to the Crosstown Rebels' sound as anything its new blood is providing, perhaps even more so when one considers the glut of material flowing from the label as of late. "The Picture" is anything but just another release. Adapting to the Lazarus camp's late-night formula, Sontag tapers his electro bombast to little more than a whisper of metallic cackles that adds a subtle texture to the track's soft-edged thump. Tiga has a reputation for exuding electro sleaze, so his adoption of lyrics from Prince's "When Doves Cry" makes for a natural fit, but even with the Purple One's lyrics in the mix, Sontag has chosen to tone down his sexed-up swagger as well. "The Picture" is much more tame than what Tiga fans are likely used to. When Sontag's incantation, "Dig if you will a picture/An ocean of violets in bloom," echoes in his monotone drone, the latter sounds more like "an ocean of violence and doom." Intended or not, it's certainly imagery befitting the aesthetic of the black-clad clan Sontag is moonlighting with, and it's still a potent slice of techno-pop.
With a remix from current Crosstown Rebels' darling Subb-an (a.k.a. Ashique Subhan), the flipside's "Pleasure From the Bass" maintains the single's brooding energy with a retro-tinged tech-house stomper. Keeping true to the original—which surfaced back in 2004—the hotly tipped young gun really just imparts a darker mood. Padded drums, robotic squeals, and a robust analog electro-funk bass riff replace the original's punk-funk kit drumming and electroclash feel. Leaving Sontag's hip-house spoken word largely intact, Subb-an one-ups the track's once simplistic nature, filling in those spaces with a macabre synth line, 303 acid accents, and classic Chicago jacking hand claps. In a lot of ways, this rerub of classic Tiga has stronger dancefloor legs than its more up-to-date counterpart. Of course, not every release on Crosstown Rebels can deserve the praise so often showered upon the label, nor do Tiga's silence breaker and Subb-an's remix represent for the pinnacle of its sound, but with the Montreal vet at the controls and the London up-and-comer in his corner, at least "The Picture" and Subb-an's resurrection of "Pleasure from the Bass" offer a refreshing spin on a sound that, after 100 releases, has become more the norm than the rebellious game changer it once was.